Ever thought about being a ninja and a spy and also an archer like Oliver Queen but at the same time living in a world that’s set in medieval times with like a bunch of different fiefdoms with cool names that split teens up into different groups based on their abilities too and also do you like wearing camouflage clothing? If so, The Ruins of Gorlan, the first book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan, is totally for you!
This story is not as dark and dreary as the book cover might suggest. It’s a fun-filled adventure that chronicles the path to Rangerdom (is that a word?) on which Will, an orphaned Ward of Castle Redmont, takes after being denied access to Battleschool, a place where knights train, because of his tiny frame. He’s led by Halt, one of the most skilled Rangers in the Kingdom of Araluen, who also reminds me of that stereotypical old dude who always wants young kids to get off his lawn. Flanagan makes it a point to remind the reader (quite often) that Halt never smiles.
Bit of background on Rangers: they’re basically medieval spies that scout out foreign lands before the kingdom sends troops there for war. They’re skilled in the art of concealment, archery, equestrianism, and cool knife stuff (both in the throwing and slashing variety). If I were in this world, I’d definitely want to be a Ranger.
The Ruins of Gorlan was a pretty easy read. I found myself enjoying the way the story was told—through an all-knowing third-person narrator that fit the medieval setting really well—and rooting for Will during his Ranger training and his many battles against bullies and beasts alike. Even though Halt was set up to be an intimidating character, at times I literally laughed out loud from his quips and sarcastic comments.
One of the major themes of this work was bullying. Horace, another Ward of Castle Redmont and former bully to Will himself, becomes bullied at the Battleschool. Because of his constant bullying, he becomes depressed, cast away from the other warrior apprentices, and prone to lashing out at the few friends he does have. I found Horace’s character arc to be the most engaging, and I was constantly empathetic for the boy, hoping he’d eventually overcome his tormentors. It was nice parallel to Will’s fantastical adventures and really grounded the story, giving the reader something to which they can relate.
However, there were a few things about this book that didn’t quite live up to the rest of it. While the prologue sets up the epic battle at the end of the story, the majority of the book lacks a clear present antagonist. Horace seemed to be heading in that direction but then became an ally. Instead, Flanagan opts for the dangerous beasts known as the Kalkaras—since he lives in Australia, I’m sure he’s an expert on the topic of dangerous beasts—which don’t pop up until the last third of the book.
Also, Flanagan introduces the reader to five of the castle Wards (Will and Horace among them), all of whom are fascinating characters with uniquely defined personalities and talents, but three of the five are only included in scenes when they’re all together. My hope is that these characters play much larger roles in the subsequent books.
Overall, this book was a fun read. It was full of action and adventure and was a nice book to read as a breather between books with heavier topics. I’ll put the next in the series on my To-Read list, but I probably won’t get to it until I need another break.